Why is the Catholic Mass so Boring?
There is no doubt we live in an entertainment culture. It’s gotten to the point, made especially clear over the past several days, that our entertainment is no longer just entertainment, it’s also our news. We turn to our celebrities with the expectation, not just for them to provide us with entertainment through their talents, but with the turmoil of their lives. Meanwhile, legitimate news items vie for a small sliver of air time.
This is not, I assure you, a rant against our culture, as much as it is an observation that now, perhaps more than ever before, we are culture driven by the desire for entertainment.
With this truth in mind, I suppose it’s not surprising that people often ask me, “Why is the Catholic Mass so boring?”
Years ago, I made the same claim. I remember even declaring that the church was out of touch and irrelevant because it didn’t make efforts to reach people where they are, and instead rested on the laurels of the liturgy, expecting people to just simply follow along.
It was this attitude towards the church that made me strike out for greener pastures, where I eventually became an evangelical protestant minister. “This,” I thought, “is a church that seeks people out and tries to communicate with them on their own terms.” I read books on building a seeker-driven church that made the church-going experience comfortable, relatable and more in line with the entertainment driven culture.
The church experience of evangelical Protestantism came with a promise: this is a place where you will be fed. The worship experience and sermons were directed at me, as an individual, and my primary concern was my “personal relationship with Jesus Christ.”
Many people came and went from the church where I worked. People would leave their evangelical protestant church to join our evangelical protestant church. When asked, “Why?,” the answers generally had something to do with not being “fed” by that church any more. It was usually only a matter of time before they moved on from our community as well, likely citing the same reason.
Perhaps it shouldn’t have been surprising to me but, building a church on entertainment and the promise of “personal relationship” with Christ only seemed to be resulting in one thing: a “community” characterized by individualism rather than true community. The culture of the church was one in which the individual’s preferences and personal growth were paramount over the building of a true community of faith.
In contrast to this reality, I held the description of the early Church in the second chapter of the book of Acts:
“They devoted themselves to the teaching of the apostles and to the communal life, to the breaking of bread and to the prayers. Awe came upon everyone, and many wonders and signs were done through the apostles. All who believed were together and held all things in common; they would sell their property and possessions and divide them among all according to each one’s need. Every day the devoted themselves to meeting together in the temple are and to breaking bread in their homes. They ate their meals with exultation and sincerity of heart, praising God and enjoying favor with all the people. And every day the Lord added to their number those who were being saved.”
-Acts 2: 44-47, NAB
I can’t help, even now, to be struck by the words, “every day the Lord added to their numbers those who were being saved.” People were saved, not because the church was entertaining, or because it held the promise of personal growth, but because, in it existed the love of God and Jesus Christ through the outpouring of community.
Everywhere I go and almost everything I do in our culture is about getting the most for myself as an individual. It’s about having choices and being able to pick my unique entertainment experience, to put on my iPod ear phones and shut out the world around me rather than living in an amongst my neighbor in love.
Perhaps church shouldn’t be like that. Maybe it shouldn’t be about the music I like or picking a place where the preacher is entertaining. What if, instead of looking for an experience where I am “fed,” I am supposed to be looking for a place where “I” am the least important part of the experience, and the emphasis is on God? If the worship experience were more like that, wouldn’t I be more likely to stop loving myself so darn much and start loving my neighbor just a little bit more?
The Catholic Church will always be “boring” to most because it’s not “seeker friendly.” While variety exists in the types of music being offered at masses, the central component of the worship experience will never be about me, my tastes or the music at all. Rather, it will be about putting myself aside, stepping in to the presence of God, and trying to think in terms of a divine community that begins here and now and continues on in eternity.
When you’re at mass next week, I challenge you not to think too much about the choir being off-key, or the dullness of your priest’s homily. Instead, think about the fact that you’re witnessing a miracle take place in the transformation of bread and wine into the body and blood of Christ. Think about the fact that, in each mass we join “with all the choirs of angels in heaven” and “join their unending hymn of praise.” In other words: think about the fact that Church is about you willingly stepping into the mysterious and wonderful presence of God in community, seeking Him out rather than passively sitting and just waiting to be fed.